How Hard is it to Become an Electrician?

The electrical trade is a safe choice for anyone looking for a growing career, with a lot of stability and opportunities to make money. If you’ve been thinking about becoming an electrician, you may be wondering how to begin your journey and how hard it is to become an electrician and reach the top of your career. Keep reading below for all of the information you need to jumpstart your future as a licensed electrician.

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Training to Become a Licensed Electrician

A career as an electrician generally starts with some form of training, which can be undertaken in various ways. While some may enter directly into an apprenticeship, others prefer to enroll in a training program at a local community college or trade school. Although you will need to complete an apprenticeship in either case, colleges and trade schools usually give credit toward your apprenticeship upon graduation. Similarly, those who enter apprenticeships will be required to complete a minimal amount of classroom education.

So, what are the advantages of attending a classroom-based program through a local trade school or community college? Most importantly, it will give you the knowledge you need to enter the job field already in possession of specific trade skills. Finding an apprenticeship can be competitive, as apprentices are paid employees and are expected to pull their weight. Therefore, having completed an electrical program can help you to find a better, more lucrative apprenticeship.

Once you are ready to get an apprenticeship, you will need to decide if you prefer a union or non-union apprenticeship. Union apprenticeships can be a little more challenging to get into and require the apprentice to pay union dues. However, union apprentices generally bring home higher wages than their non-union counterparts.

Union apprenticeships are organized through a partnership between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). These two organizations form Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committees (JATCs), known collectively as the Electrical Training Alliance. If you want to apply for a union apprenticeship, you should know that you will be required to take an exam based on algebra and reading comprehension to qualify.

Non-union apprenticeships, also know as open-shop or merit-based, pay lower wages than union apprenticeships but do not require the apprentice to pay dues. In addition, with no standard definition for job classifications, non-union apprentices may learn to do some tasks that would typically fall outside of the strict division of labor found in a union. Although it is possible to search for non-union apprenticeships through a local contractor, there are also some specific training programs you can take through a non-union trade organization. These organizations include the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) and the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC).  

Do You Need Math to Become an Electrician?

Electricians do need to know some math, although they don’t typically need to perform complicated equations. In particular, algebra is used on the job quite a bit, and if you are planning to participate in a union apprenticeship, passing an algebra exam will be required prior to being accepted into the program.

If math tends to make you a little nervous, you may want to brush up a bit by looking for resources online or by participating in a course, either in person or online. You may even find one for electrical contractors. Some of the specific types of math you need to know include fractions, decimals, whole numbers, algebra, units and measurements, powers and roots and solving equations.

Is it Difficult to Become an Electrician?

It takes many years of experience in the trade to gain the knowledge you need to qualify as a master electrician. As the first stage of your career, you will need to spend four to six years as an apprentice to become a fully qualified electrician. During your apprenticeship, you should expect to work hard, as your job is to assist the journeymen and master-level electricians in their work. The job will likely entail carrying heavy equipment and tools to and from job sites, fetching supplies as needed and doing much of the grunt work. Working long hours is also typical during peak seasons, meaning the work may significantly impact your family and social life during these periods. This time commitment does not only apply to apprentices but is likely to persist throughout your career. 

Once you have met the requirements for your apprenticeship, you will probably need to become licensed. Although the requirements vary based on state and local laws, becoming a licensed journeyman electrician will generally require passing an examination. Once you have become a journeyperson, you will typically be required to spend at least two years at this level before applying for a master electrician or electrical contractor’s license.

Although it is possible to skip becoming a master and continue working as a journeyperson, there are good reasons to seek this level of licensing. Master electricians make more money, have access to supervisory positions and are able to open a contracting company. If any of these are on your list of career goals, it is well worth your time to seek a higher level of credentialing. 

Once again, to become a master electrician, you will need to pass an examination. Typically, both the journey- and master-level exams are based on your knowledge of local building codes, which can vary from place to place but are usually based on the National Electrical Code (NEC), maintained by the National Fire Protection Association. Depending on where you live, you may need to become familiar with additional codes, like those overseen by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) or the International Code Council (ICC).

There are many online resources to help prepare you for your examination, including complete training programs. You might also find an exam prep course through a local trade school or community college. 

Wage Expectations for Electricians

One of the best things about training in a trade is having the ability to earn a living wage while you learn. In fact, over the course of your apprenticeship, you will likely recover any money you spent on training programs, books and tools. According to payscale.com, apprentice electricians make an average hourly wage of $15.43. You may also be able to earn pay increases even during your apprenticeship, based on merit or time spent in the trade. 

As you progress through your career and earn credentials at each level, your pay will increase. Journey-level electricians make an average hourly wage of $25.56, while master electricians’ average hourly wage is $29.14. Also, no matter what level electrician you are, you may qualify for bonuses, profit sharing and commissions, which have the potential to add an estimated $2,000 to $14,000 to your yearly salary. 

What are the Disadvantages to Being an Electrician?

Although the life of an electrician comes with advantages, namely the potential for future career growth and the ability to find work in various industries, this career is not for everyone. Some disadvantages include:

  • It’s a pretty long road between apprentice and master. By the time you have the ability to call yourself a master electrician, you will have spent six to eight years learning all aspects of the trade. On a positive note, unlike most career choices, where you pay a large sum of money to attend a training course or university program, you will get paid as you learn the trade, offsetting potential costs. 
  • Working as an electrician requires a lot of physical stamina. In addition to carrying tools and equipment, you can expect to spend a large portion of the day on your feet and potentially in cramped spaces while working on complex wiring systems. The work can be exhausting and might not be suitable if you do not have adequate physical conditioning. 
  • The hours can be long, especially during peak seasons. As mentioned above, the work may require a large chunk of time, which you may wish to spend with family and friends instead. This time commitment may include working weekends and for long stretches without a day off, especially when the weather is nice. On the plus side, as you progress through your career, you will qualify for more types of jobs and may be able to find a more typical nine-to-five arrangement once you are licensed. 
  • You may find yourself working outdoors in inclement weather. This downside is especially true for anyone who plans to become a lineworker (those who install and repair power lines). Linemen are often required to work outdoors in blizzards and high winds, restoring power to communities. However, even residential and commercial electricians have the potential to need to work outside in cold weather or in a hot attic on a summer day. 
  • You will have to please demanding clients. Although working with challenging people isn’t unique to this field, those in the construction industry, especially business owners, will need to keep their clients satisfied if they want their business to flourish. 
  • Although Projections Central predicts a 10.4 percent growth in electrician jobs over the next 10 years, this growth might not pertain to those with the highest credentials. As newer materials become simpler to install, the need for extremely skilled workers is lessening. 

In spite of these downsides, for a person with a particular disposition, this career is a good fit and can lead to a potentially long and satisfying career. However, if any of these factors give you pause, you may want to spend a little more time researching the career and perhaps even speak to a local electrician. In this way, you can gain more knowledge about the specifics of the trade in your local area.